Author: Frank N. Wilner

Rail labor may rue its crew-size strategy

News item: The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced May 23 that it is cancelling an April 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to mandate a minimum of two crewmembers on every freight train. Additionally, the agency is preempting, as it may under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution giving the federal government dominion over interstate commerce, all state laws mandating crew size within state borders.

Shipper Frustration Turns Contemptuous

WATCHING WASHINGTON, MAY 2019 – Oh, the contempt that drippeth from a judicial petition of the Western Coal Traffic League (WCTL), whose members ship and receive by rail some 175 million tons of coal annually. It accuses the Surface Transportation Board (STB) of impersonating a regulatory agency by not acting on long-pending rulemakings, and asks a federal court to order the STB to do as its statute instructs—timely decide cases brought before it.

Are STB’s Newbies Change Agents?

WATCHING WASHINGTON, APRIL 2019 – Stanley found Livingstone faster than vacancies on the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB) have been filled, with two remaining more than three years after Congress increased from three the number of Senate-confirmed seats.

At Amtrak, it’s no longer 1950

WATCHING WASHINGTON, MARCH 2019 – Amtrak seemingly operates in the shadow of a Bat Signal over Gotham—that specially modified searchlight displaying the emblem of a bat, and intended, when lighted, to summon superhero Batman. Rather than Batman, the Amtrak sentinel, with a passenger train emblem, summons self-appointed management surrogates—hopefully helpful railfans; well-intentioned but cash-strapped lawmakers from federal, state and local government; and, surely, the snoopy press corps.

Beware the operating ratio trap

Watching Washington, February 2019: Sizzle sells product. No wonder the sizzle of ever-lower operating ratios is leading to remarkably higher railroad share prices. But as operating ratios—operating expenses as a percentage of operating revenue—flirt with a sub-60%, the meaning for the longer term is unclear.

NMB eyes easier union “ouster” procedure

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued Jan. 31, the Republican majority on the National Mediation Board seeks to create a “straightforward election process” to decertify union representation on airlines and railroads whose labor relations are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA).